Learn about the importance of leaving no trace of you or your horse on the trail.
December 13, 2009
From the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics
Riding the trails with your horse, enjoying nature, can be a very rewarding experience. While it’s important to enjoy your trail ride, it’s also important to reduce the impact you and your horse have on the trail.
Here are some practices that will help ensure the trails will be around and enjoyed for generations to come:
Learn how to Leave No Trace wherever you go. Start by asking about local ecology and local minimum-impact practices and guidelines. Know the regulations and special concerns for the place you plan to visit.
Because every wildland is unique, regulations and permit stipulations vary. In many areas of the backcountry, stock permits are required or there are regulations geared specifically to packstock use. Knowing this information in advance will help you as you get ready for your trip.
If you want to learn more about trail stewardship, check out our Stewards for Trails, Education and Partnership program or STEP.
Land managers are most likely your best source of information, especially in terms of regulations. You can contact them through their Web sites, offices and visitor information centers. Other information sources include sporting good suppliers, bookstores, clubs and non-profit organizations, libraries and nature centers.
These information sources will help you determine such things as access, likely weather conditions, snowpack, available feed (if grazing is allowed), high-use areas and trail conditions, as well as terrain and wildlife considerations. Some areas are closed to grazing and others restrict the number of horses that a group can use.
Even if you have ridden the route before, it’s wise to get out the maps and go over your itinerary. Consider the river crossings, alternate campsites, mountain passes and fishing opportunities. Familiarize yourself with other trails that you might have to use in case of an emergency or if a trail is impassable due to deadfall or rockslides.
Use Proper Gear
Taking proper gear is a key for horsepacking. Yet determining the right amount is an art borne of experience. Keep an equipment list for your trips.
Prepare for extreme weather, hazards and emergencies. Pack a camp stove and fuel, a pot, matches, a signal mirror and a whistle or fluorescent vest. Always carry a good map, plenty of food, water, a water filter or purification tablets, warm clothing and protection from the sun, rain and insects.
Take the correct stock tools as well. If the area allows grazing, consider the devices you will use to confine your animals. Will you take pickets? An electric fence? Hobbles? “Tree-saver” straps? Make sure your packstock is trained to use and respect any of the devices before you go. And remember that the less you restrict your animals’ movement, the less impact they will have on the land. Also – and this cannot be stressed enough – certain types of restraints, such as pickets, are illegal in some areas. Thus, you need to make sure that you know the regulations and, equally importantly, how to use your tools properly.
If you're finding these tips helpful and you'd like more information, check out our Stewards for Trails, Education and Partnership program.
Know Your Horses
Before entering the back-country, you should consider the following points concerning your pack-stock.
- Take the minimum number of animals necessary. Some experienced packers “ride one, pack one.” Some even “ride two, pack one.”
- Take only animals that are fit, calm and experienced. For example, a mare in heat might cause problems in a herd of geldings, and an unbroken colt could be a hazard to your safety and that of the environment.
- Practice the techniques to be used in the back-country before you head out. In your corral at home, expose your animal to the sounds, gear and restraints you expect to use or encounter during your trip. Such practice may prevent injury to yourself, your steed or the outdoors.
Develop the Skills
Know the skills and gear that are needed. Don’t be afraid to ask the advice of a veteran horse person. Sit in on clinics or consider taking a course or hiring a competent, licensed guide. Make first aid, navigation and self-rescue part of your training, and be sure you and your animals are in adequate physical shape for the trip. Learn as much as you can about your destination and how to have fun there while staying safe and protecting the land.